Ms. Snowdon, ELL mentor

Retiring educator Joan Snowdon has been an ELL (English Language Learner) teacher at ARHS for the past 21 years. Her students moved to Amherst from countries all over the world, some with no experience speaking English.

After two to three years in our ELL program with Ms. Snowdon and her colleagues, students have the English fluency of the average high school sophomore and leave the ELL program to go into mainstream tenth grade literature courses. It is in these classes that they gain experience reading Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, and contemporary literature.

After graduating college, Ms. Snowdon went to UMass Amherst to get a graduate degree in multicultural education. In the final stages of her training, she moved to the Florida Keys to be a teacher.

“When I was teaching in Florida, I observed kids who were of different ethnicities being involved in the same culture,” she said. This was valuable experience because it showed her that students coming from different places can learn in unison.

Eventually, Ms. Snowdon found her way to the area. She lives in Leverett with her husband Phil Crafts, with whom she raised two children, Tito and Sophie. Both of the children graduated from ARHS, went off to college, and are now adults, but often come back to the area.

In her decades at ARHS, Ms. Snowdon has made it her mission to welcome and support ELL students. Many new students feel lost when they first arrive in Amherst. “They are homesick and scared,” Ms. Snowdon said. “But they develop language skills, confidence, and comfort in our school.”  

She said she likes the way Amherst delivers ELL instruction. “Our program gives students a chance to ease into our school instead of having to be thrown in with no support,” she said. While students enter math and science classes with translators, they take ELL history, language, and literature courses until they attain the English skills to enter mainstream humanities courses.

During her career, Ms. Snowdon said her program had a big effect on the lives of Cambodian students who fled their homeland in the 1980s during a genocide. Most did not speak English upon arrival and were educated in Amherst, then stayed in the community to raise their children.

After a lifetime of helping ELL students find success, Ms. Snowdon is preparing for retirement. She has big plans to reconnect with her family and spend more time with her husband after the year comes to an end.